Science Fact of the Day: Good Charlotte was on to something

I haven’t done a science fact of the day lately. Work is time consuming. Don’t forget, science facts of the day are my thoughts on and descriptions of what scientists say. In other words, it’s a fact that some scientists have said it. What I write is not necessarily a fact of nature nor something I even take to be the case.

In an article at Big Think, an author describes this analysis of online dating data.

Here are some pieces of the original article:

We examine the impact of a user’s weight on his or her outcomes by means of the body mass index (BMI), which is a height adjusted measure of weight.18 Figure 5.5 shows that for both men and women there is an “ideal” BMI at which success peaks, but the level of the ideal BMI differs strongly across genders. The optimal BMI for men is about 27. According to the American Heart Association, a man with such a BMI is slightly overweight. For women, on the other hand, the optimal BMI is about 17, which is considered underweight and corresponds to the figure of a supermodel. A woman with such a BMI receives about 77% more first contact e-mails than a woman with a BMI of 25.

This is expected. Men with a slightly higher BMI probably have more muscle mass. And women whose BMI was so low in 2005 and prior (when the study was done) probably ran a lot.

Income strongly affects the success of men, as measured by the number of first contact e-mails received.

This makes sense. Dating with your self-interest in mind for women includes the well being of any children or potential children.  It would be stupid to not care about income and it’s not shallow for women to do so. A lot of people bristle at the fact that the silly song said “girls like cars and money” but the song writer was just observing facts. In a similarly “shallow” way, men prefered that women look attractive. But again, if the invisible hand of biology is operating, then men will probably be more interested in women they perceive (for good or bad reasons) to be fertile and potentially good mothers.

Anyway, the article interested me because I am asked by a lot of young men for dating advice. I usually tell them: seek first God’s kingdom (virtue is more important than marriage) but then make more money and get more muscles. The empirical data generally back up these observations. Another case in point would be the extremely annoying body builder at my old gym. Women would be repulsed by him at first (he’s too huge). But he’d mention, “My lambo” and suddenly the girl would end her work out and follow him around for his. My wife and I observed this well over a dozen times over the three years we went to the gym.* Now, I mentioned the “invisible hand of biology,” and this is real. But the fact is that relationships are more than biology, they just aren’t less than biology. Romance can transcend biology but you cannot subtract biology from it.

Here’s the song I mentioned:

 

*Incidentally, he tried flirting with her while she was doing deadlift. She simply said something terse like, “I’m working out.”

 

Placebo and Intelligence

In a recent experiment, psychologists “designed a procedure to intentionally induce a placebo effect” in order to test the claims of intelligence increasing software.[1]

The study has a small sample size, but bear with me. 

In the control group (people who simply thought they were participating in an experiment) there was no difference in pre and post training intelligence. In the experimental group (who were told they were training to increase their intelligence) an increase in intelligence was measured (5-10 IQ points) after only one hour of training.

In general, exercises designed to improve intelligence take several hours of training over the course of several weeks to yield a measurable effect. So the researchers designed the experiment to remove training based improvement.

Why do this?

Several attempts to measure ‘cognitive improvement games’ advertise to participants in a way that may prime them for placebo improvements (or appeal to people for reasons related to their beliefs about intelligence thus creating a selection bias by recruiting people who really want the training to work). But, as I mentioned, people apparently improved. Now, I don’t care about brain training games. Just use Khan Academy, Duo Lingo, and learn to write software. Your brain will improve. 

What interests me is what this study might imply about beliefs and mindset. If people can be persuaded to improve at an intelligence test by being primed to believe they have engaged in an activity that made them smarter, how could teachers, counselors, parents, ministers, and others leverage such a finding? We know that the coaching effect is very powerful for athletes. Could it hold true for education? It certainly makes more sense than the self-esteem movement. Replacing: “You’re smart and you can do it,” with “this brain training will make you smarter if you do it” could be a useful mindset technique. 

Anyway, there are genetic limits to IQ. But within that set range, getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, exercising, and, perhaps, belief can yield minor improvements. I find Arthur Whimbey’s research on this compelling. Prior to computer games, like we have today, he found that teaching people to think sequentially (out loud or writing out their thought processes) led to increased IQ scores and performance in school. This accords with Ritche’s claim that education also increases IQ.

But again, this study is small potatoes in terms of evidence. Either way, fake it till you make it is the best strategy. 

Reference

[1] Cyrus K. Foroughi et al., “Placebo Effects in Cognitive Training,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (June 20, 2016), 1.